Tag Archives: Mark Anderson

Pottering About

ANNA OF THE FIVE TOWNS

New Vic Theatre, Newcastle under Lyme, Wednesday 31st May, 2017

 

It’s 150 years since the birth of Stoke-on-Trent writer, Arnold Bennett.  To commemorate this, the New Vic has commissioned this new stage adaptation of one of his Stoke-based novels.  The theatre has always sought to offer material about its local area and its people, but will this piece with its Stokie accents and dialect speak to anyone who comes from a town other than those listed in the ‘five’?

Yes, of course it does.

Writer Deborah McAndrew skillfully distills the events of the book to a couple of hours traffic on the stage, with strong characters and economic narrative techniques so that time and place are evoked superbly.  The costumes add to the authenticity, while the set, designed by Dawn Allsopp – all-brick floor (industry built this place), with a sunken rectangle for Anna’s dining room at the centre, (the hub of Anna’s world around which all other events take place) – brings style and stylisation for this otherwise naturalistic piece.  Daniella Beattie’s lighting mullions the set with patches, evoking architecture as well as mood – and there is a special effect at the end that is startlingly powerful.

Anna Tellwright (Lucy Bromilow) has been housekeeper for her father and mother figure for her little sister almost her whole life.  Dad (Robin Simpson) is a bit of a tyrant.  He feels his grip slipping when Anna comes of age and inherits a shedload of money.  Naturally, being a man, he takes control of her finances: we can’t have women being all independent of men, can we?  Bennett, writing in 1902, long before suffrage, captures the fragility of the traditionally masculine.  Dad can only lash out, tighten the reins and almost combust as he fears his position being edged into the side-lines.  Simpson is excellent as this incendiary man.  Mr Tellwright’s explosions of rage are like fireworks going off unexpectedly.

Bromilow is no shrinking violet Cinderella.  Driven by a sense of duty, she finds it difficult to enjoy her new wealth.  Her eyes are opened to the human cost of capitalism when a man is driven to suicide because he cannot make his repayments.  She glimpses what fun money can bring, when she dares to dip her toe into the waters of independence, but she never truly gets to let her hair down; her hedonism consists of the purchase of some new clobber and a fortnight on the Isle of Man – which she ends up being spending as nursemaid to a friend with the flu.  Anna’s lot is not one of frivolity and profligate spending.  She maintains the same straitlaced starchiness throughout, whatever she’s doing.  I would like to see Bromilow’s Anna let rip, just once, and lighten up!

In contrast is never-lifted-a-finger-in-her-life, well-off young woman, Beatrice Sutton (Molly Roberts, who brings colour in her dresses and humour in her portrayal).  Also delightful is Rosie Abraham as Anna’s little sister Agnes: it is through Anna’s sacrifice that Agnes is permitted a childhood rather than a life of domestic service.

Now rich, Anna becomes inexplicably attractive to her chum from Sunday school, young gent Henry Mynors (a suitably dapper Mark Anderson) and she accepts his marriage proposal – almost impetuously.  Meanwhile, decent and hard-working Willie Price (not a porn name!) offers a chance at true love.  Benedict Shaw is perfectly placed as the upstanding Willie, handsome and down-to-earth.  Who will Anna choose?  Unable to follow her heart, it is her sense of duty not any taste for the high life that leads our heroine to make her choice – with tragic consequences.

The production is superb: strong on atmosphere, with choral singing of hymns and folk tunes covering scene transitions.  Kudos to musical director Ashley Thompson for the vocal work, accompanied by the occasional brass instrument for added local colour.

Director Conrad Nelson manages the changes of tone so that we are drawn into this society and enjoy our time there.  The interval comes and you realise that while you’ve been seduced by the sound and the visuals, not much has happened really.  The drama is mostly condensed into the second half.  Bennett’s story is at heart a melodrama but he goes against the norms of the genre: the happy ending here is that duty has been served, rather than Anna getting the man she loves and deserves.  And that’s no happy ending at all.  For the time being, female independence has been shut back into Pandora’s box…

Yet another example of excellence from all departments at the New Vic.  With Stoke-on-Trent bidding for ‘City of Culture 2021’, this theatre must surely be the keystone of the campaign.

Anna

Cheer up, duck. Lucy Bromilow, Mark Anderson and Benedict Shaw (Photo: Steve Bould)

 


Blue Suede Show

LOVE ME TENDER

New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham, Monday 24th August, 2015

 

This jukebox musical, inspired by and including songs made famous by Elvis Presley, turns out to be the epitome of the genre. No one is more delighted than I. There is even a jukebox on stage.

What sets this one apart from the others doing the rounds is its sense of humour. It knows it is froth and doesn’t take itself at all seriously. The plot borrows heavily from shows like Footloose and Hairspray but also from Shakespearean rom-coms, Twelfth Night and As You Like It. Almost everyone in it is a star-crossed lover, with their heart set on the wrong person. Complications mount up until the final scene, and there are lots of laughs along the way, killer songs that just keep coming, and boundless energy from a lively and talented chorus.

Ben Lewis is guitar-playing roustabout Chad who rocks up in a nameless Midwest town; he’s part-Elvis, part-Fonz with his jukebox-mending magical touch, and there is also more than a hint of Johnny Bravo. He falls for the local museum curator (Kate Tydman) but it is Natalie (Laura Tebbutt) the local mechanic who sets her sight on him – to the extent that she dresses up as a guitar-playing roustabout in order to spend time hanging out with him. Chad finds Ed strangely alluring, and so does the museum curator in scenes that resemble Olivia and Viola, and Viola and Orsino. It’s all silly fun, played with verve by the young leads, and there is an amusing turn by Mark Anderson as Dennis, a nerd in love with Natalie…

A subplot involving interracial couple Lorraine (an excellent Aretha Ayeh) and Dean (an appealing Felix Mosse) hints at a darker world beyond the town’s limits, but the show doesn’t dwell on such unpleasantness. Their rendition of It’s Now or Never is a comic highlight, hilariously staged by director/choreographer Karen Bruce.

Bruce keeps the action fluid, using a versatile, stylised set (by Morgan Large) and a plethora of amusing props and ideas. Sian Reeves stalks around like a crab with a loudhailer as puritanical Mayor Matilda, the nominal villain of the piece – you may know what’s coming but it’s fun seeing it happen. Shaun Williamson is in great form as Natalie’s dad, Jim, a lonely widower; his singing voice is perfect for Elvis numbers and he uses his physicality to comic effect.

But it is Mica Paris who takes the honours as sassy bar owner Sylvia. Her delivery of sardonic one-liners is spot on and, of course, her singing is stupendous. I got chills, they’re multiplying – oops, wrong show.

Love Me Tender is non-stop entertainment, proper feel-good fun from start to roof-raising finish.

Mica Paris and Shaun Williamson (Photo: Johan Persson)

Mica Paris and Shaun Williamson (Photo: Johan Persson)